High Speed 1

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Eurostar trains at St Pancras International
High Speed 1 approaching the Medway Viaducts

High Speed 1 is a 68-mile high-speed railway in Middlesex, Essex and Kent between London and the Channel Tunnel (map). It is legally known as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

The line carries international passenger traffic between the United Kingdom and Continental Europe; it also carries domestic passenger traffic to and from stations in Kent and the east of the metropolis, and freight traffic. The line crosses the River Medway and under the River Thames, terminating at St Pancras railway station on the north side of central London. It cost £5.8 billion to build and opened on 14 November 2007.[1][2] Trains reach speeds of up to 186 mph on section 1 and up to 143 mph on section 2. Intermediate stations are at Stratford International in metropolitan Essex and Ebbsfleet International and Ashford International in Kent.

International passenger services are provided by Eurostar, with journey times of London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord in 2 hours 15 minutes, and St Pancras to Brussels-South in 1 hour 51 minutes.[3] Domestic high-speed commuter services serving the intermediate stations and beyond began on 13 December 2009.

The CTRL project saw new bridges and tunnels built, with a combined length nearly as long as the Channel Tunnel itself, and significant archaeological research undertaken.[4] In 2002, the CTRL project was awarded the Major Project Award at the British Construction Industry Awards.[5] The line was transferred to government ownership in 2009, with a 30-year concession for its operation being put up for sale in June 2010.[6]

Early history

A high-speed rail line, LGV Nord, has been in operation between the Channel Tunnel and the outskirts of Paris since the Tunnel's opening in 1994.[7] This has enabled Eurostar rail services to travel at 186 mph for this part of their journey. A similar high-speed line in Belgium, from the French border to Brussels opened in 1997.[8][9] In Britain, Eurostar trains had to run at a maximum of 100 mph on existing tracks between London Waterloo and the Channel Tunnel.[10] These tracks were shared with local traffic, limiting the number of services that could be run, and jeopardising reliability.[11] The case for a high-speed line similar to the continental part of the route was recognised by policymakers,[12] and the construction of the line was authorised by Parliament with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996.[13]

An early plan conceived by British Rail in the early 1970s for a route passing through Tonbridge met considerable opposition on environmental and social grounds, especially from the Leigh Action Group and Surrey & Kent Action on Rail (SKAR). A committee was set up to examine the proposal; but in due course the project was cancelled,[14] together with the plan for the tunnel itself.

The next plan for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link involved a tunnel reaching London from the south-east, and an underground terminus in the vicinity of Kings Cross station. A late change in the plans led to a change of route, with the new line approaching London from the east. This opened the possibility of reusing the underused St Pancras station as the terminus, with access via the North London Line that crosses the throat of the station.[15]

The idea of using the North London line proved illusory, and it was rejected in 1994 as too difficult to construct and environmentally damaging.[16] The idea of using St Pancras station as the core of the new terminus was retained, albeit now linked by 12 miles of specially built tunnels to Dagenham via Stratford.[15]

The project

As the 1987 Channel Tunnel Act made government funding for a Channel tunnel rail link unlawful,[17] construction did not take place as it was not financially viable. Construction was delayed until passage of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996[13] which provided construction powers that ran for the following 10 years. The chief executive of the time Rob Holden stated that it was the "largest land acquisition programme since the Second World War".[18]

The whole route was to have been built as a single project, but in 1998 serious financial difficulties arose, and extensive changes came with a British government rescue plan.[19] To reduce risk, the line was split into two separate phases,[20] to be managed by Union Railways (South) and Union Railways (North). A recovery programme was agreed whereby LCR sold government-backed bonds worth £1.6 billion to pay for the construction of section 1, with the future of section 2 still not settled.

The original intention had been for the new railway, once completed, to be run by Union Railways as a separate line from the rest of the British railway network. As part of the 1998 rescue it was agreed that, following completion, section 1 would be purchased by Railtrack with an option to purchase section 2. In return, Railtrack was committed to operate the whole route as well as St Pancras railway station, which, unlike all other former British Rail stations, had been transferred to LCR/Union Railways in 1996.[21]

In 2001, Railtrack announced that, due to its own financial problems, it would not undertake to purchase section 2,[22][23][24] triggering a second restructuring.[25] The 2002 plan agreed that the two sections would have different owners (Railtrack for section 1, LCR for section 2) but with common Railtrack management. Following further financial problems at Railtrack,[26] its interest was sold back to LCR, which then sold the operating rights for the completed line to Network Rail, Railtrack's successor.[27] Under this arrangement LCR became the sole owner of both sections of the CTRL and the St Pancras property, as per the original 1996 plan. Amendments were made in 2001 for the new station at Stratford International and connections to the West Coast Main Line.

The cost of construction, £80 million per mile, was much higher than other projects in other countries; the French high speed line from Paris to Strasbourg, completed in 2007, cost £22 million per mile.[28]


HS1 within the United Kingdom, with the Channel Tunnel and LGV Nord also shown
A Eurostar service on the CTRL, near Ashford

Section 1

Section 1 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, opened on 28 September 2003, is a 46-mile section of high-speed track from the Channel Tunnel to Fawkham Junction in northern Kent with a maximum speed of 186 mph. Its completion cut the London–Paris journey time by around 21 minutes, to 2 hours 35 minutes. The line includes the Medway Viaduct, a ¾-mile bridge over the River Medway, and the North Downs Tunnel, a two-mile long, 40 ft-diameter tunnel. In safety testing on the section prior to opening, a new UK rail speed record of 208 mph was set.[29] Much of the new line runs alongside the M2 and M20 motorways through Kent. After its completion, Eurostar trains continued to use suburban lines to enter London, arriving at Waterloo International.

Unlike most LGV stations in France, the through tracks for Ashford International station are off to one side rather than going through, partly due to Ashford International predating the line.[30] High Speed 1 approaches Ashford International from the north in a cut-and-cover "box"; the southbound line rises out of this cutting and crosses over the main tracks to enter the station. The main tracks then rise out of the cutting and over a flyover. On leaving Ashford, southbound Eurostars return to the high-speed line by travelling under this flyover and joining from the outside. The international platforms at Ashford are supplied with both overhead 25 kV and 3rd rail 750 V, avoiding the need to switch power supplies.

Section 2

Section 2 of the project opened on 14 November 2007 and is a 24½-mile stretch of track from the newly built Ebbsfleet station in Kent to London St Pancras with a maximum speed of 143 mph. Completion of the section cut journey times by a further 20 minutes (London–Paris in 2h 15 m; London–Brussels in 1h 51 m). The route starts with a 1⅔-mile tunnel which dives under the Thames on the edge of Swanscombe, then runs alongside the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway as far as Dagenham, where it enters a 12-mile tunnel, much of which is directly under the North London Line, before emerging over the East Coast Main Line near St Pancras. The tunnels are divided into London East and London West sections, between which a short stretch runs close to the surface to serve Stratford International and the Temple Mills Depot.

The new depot at Temple Mills, to the north of Stratford, replaced the North Pole depot in the west of London.[31] In testing, the first Eurostar train ran in St Pancras on 6 March 2007.[32] All CTRL connections are fully grade-separated. This is achieved through use of viaducts, bridges, cuttings and in one case, the tunnel portal itself.


Ashford International

A high-speed tunnel and flyover take non-stopping trains past Ashford International at 170 mph

This station was rebuilt as Ashford International during the early 1990s for international services from mainland Europe; this included the addition of two platforms to the north of station (the original down island platform had been taken over by international services). Unlike normal LGV stations in France, the through tracks for Ashford International railway station are off to one side rather than going through.[30] The number of services was reduced after the opening of the Ebbsfleet station. A high-speed domestic service to London St Pancras began on 29 June 2009.

Ebbsfleet International

Ebbsfleet International railway station opened to the public on 19 November 2007.[33] It is now Eurostar's main station in Kent.[34][35] Two of the platforms are designed for international passenger trains and four for high-speed domestic services.[36]

St Pancras International

The terminus for the high-speed line in London is St Pancras railway station. During the 2000s, towards the end of the construction of the CTRL, the entire station complex was renovated, expanded and rebranded as St Pancras International,[37][38] with a new security-sealed terminal area for Eurostar trains to continental Europe.[39] In addition, it retained traditional domestic connections. The new extension doubled the length of the central platforms now used for Eurostar services; new platforms have been provided for existing domestic and high-speed services that run along High Speed 1 to Kent.[40] New platforms on the Thameslink line across London were built beneath the western margins of the station, and the station at King's Cross Thameslink was closed.

A complex junction has been built north of St Pancras with connections to the East Coast Main Line, North London Line (for West Coast Main Line) and Midland Main Line, allowing for a wide variety of potential destinations albeit on conventional rails. As part of the works, tunnels connecting the East Coast Main Line to the Thameslink route were also built in readiness for the forthcoming Thameslink Programme.

Stratford International

Stratford International railway station was not part of the original government plans for the CTRL.[41] Despite its name, no international services call there. Completed in April 2006, it opened on 30 November 2009 when the domestic preview high-speed services started calling there.[42] An extension of the Docklands Light Railway opened to Stratford International in August 2011. It forms part of the complex of railway stations for the main site where the 2012 Summer Olympics were held.[43]

Temple Mills Depot in Leyton is used for storage and servicing of Eurostar trains and off-peak berthing of Class 395 Southeastern high-speed trains.


After local protests,[44][45] early plans were modified to put more of the route into tunnels up until a point approximately a mile from St Pancras. Previously the CTRL was planned to run on an elevated section alongside the North London Line on approach into the line's terminus. The twin tunnels bored under London were driven from Stratford westwards towards St Pancras, eastwards towards Dagenham and from Dagenham westwards to connect with the tunnel from Stratford. The tunnel boring machines were 400 ft long and weighed 1,100 tons. The depth of the tunnels varies from 80 ft to 160 ft.

The construction works were complex, and many contractors were involved in delivering them. The CTRL Section 2 construction works had caused considerable disruption around the Kings Cross area of London; in their wake redevelopment was stimulated.[46][47] The large redevelopment area includes the run-down areas of post-industrial and ex-railway land close to King's Cross and St Pancras, a conservation area with many listed buildings; this was promoted as one of the benefits for building the CTRL.[48] It has been postulated that this development was actually suppressed by the construction project,[49] and some affected districts were said still to be in a poor state in 2005.[50]

Connection line to Waterloo

A 2½-mile connecting line providing access for Waterloo railway station leaves High Speed 1 at Southfleet Junction using a grade-separated junction; the main CTRL tracks continue uninterrupted through to CTRL Section 2 underneath the southbound flyover. The connection joins the Chatham Main Line at Fawkham Junction with a flat crossing. The retention of Eurostar services to Waterloo after the line to St Pancras opened was ruled out on cost grounds.[51] Waterloo International closed upon opening of the section two of the CTRL in November 2007; Eurostar now serves the refurbished St Pancras as its only London terminal, so this connecting line is no longer used in regular service,[52][53] but can be used in emergencies by Class 395 passenger trains.


High Speed 1 was built to allow eight trains per hour through to the Channel Tunnel.[54] As of May 2014, Eurostar runs two to three trains per hour in each direction between London and the Channel Tunnel.[55] Southeastern runs in the high peak eight trains per hour between London and Ebbsfleet, two of these continuing to Ashford.[56] During the 2012 Olympic Games, the Olympic Javelin service was provided with up to twelve trains per hour from Stratford into London.[57]


The route was built with freight provision from the beginning. It has spurs leading to and from the freight terminal at Dollands Moor (Folkestone) and the freight depot at Barking (Ripple Lane), north of the River Thames. Long passing loops to hold freight trains while passenger trains overtake them were built at Lenham Heath and Singlewell.

Freight trains first ran over CTRL Section 1, on the consecutive evenings of 3–4 April 2004. Five freight trains that would have run via the classic lines were diverted to run over the Channel Tunnel Rail Link instead: three southbound intermodal trains on 3 April 2004 and two northbound intermodal trains on 4 April 2004.


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  • Young, George; Alison Gorlov (1995). Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Union Railways. 
  • National Audit Office (2001). Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions: The Channel Tunnel Rail Link. The Stationery Office. ISBN 0-10-286801-8. 
  • National Audit Office (2005). Progress on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. The Stationery Office. ISBN 0-10-293343-X. 
  • Montagu, Samuel; Department of Transport (1993). Channel Tunnel Rail Link. HMSO. 
  • Bertolini, Luca; Tejo Spit (1998). Cities on rails: the redevelopment of railway station areas. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-419-22760-1. 

Further reading

  • Pielow, Simon (1997). Eurostar. Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-2451-0. 
  • Anderson, Graham; Roskrow, Ben (1994). The Channel Tunnel Story. London: E & F N Spon. ISBN 0-419-19620-X. 
  • European Commission Directorate-General for Regional Policy and Cohesion (1996). The regional impact of the Channel Tunnel throughout the Community. Luxembourg: European Commission. ISBN 92-826-8804-6. 
  • Sievert, Terri (2002). The World's Fastest Trains. Capstone Press. ISBN 0-7368-1061-7. 
  • Griffiths, Jeanne (1995). London to Paris in Ten Minutes: The Eurostar Story. Images. ISBN 1-897817-47-9. 
  • Comfort, Nicholas (2007). The Channel Tunnel and its High Speed Links. Oakwood Press. ISBN 1-56554-854-X. 
  • Parliament: House of Commons Transport Committee (2008). Delivering a Sustainable Railway. The Stationery Office. ISBN 0-215-52222-2. 
  • Mitchell, Vic (1996). Ashford: From Steam to Eurostar. Middleton Press. ISBN 1-873793-67-7. 
  • Channel Tunnel route and terminals: BR reveals the possibilities. EMAP National Publications. September 1988. 7. OCLC 49953699. 
  • Preferred bidders announced for Channel Tunnel Rail Link contracts. EMAP Apex Publications. 28 January – 10 February 1998. OCLC 49953699. 
  • Prescott starts CTRL construction - the first new main line in 99 years. EMAP Apex Publications. 21 October – 3 November 1998. OCLC 49953699. 

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about High Speed 1)
Inter-city railway lines in Great Britain

High Speed 1  • Cross Country Route  • East Coast Main Line  • Great Eastern Main Line  • Great Western Main Line  • Midland Main Line  • West Coast Main Line